In his last column, Simon discusses the upside of inevitable automation
So that’s it. The British government has announced that from 2040 no new petrol or diesel cars will be sold in the UK. Instead, we’ll all be whooshing around in batterypowered boxes, and soon enough they won’t even need us to drive them. Think about how much less driver involvement there is now compared to 50 or even ten years ago and ask yourself if that’s such a bad thing after all. Sure, there’s less noise, but most moderns sound rubbish anyway. More usefully, you don’t have to read a map, fiddle with levers to get the right temperature, watch gauges like a hawk, judge parking extremities while heaving a two-ton steering wheel, or learn Origami to put up your soft top.
If your daily drive was in a Ferrari Cal’ Spider along the Amalfi coast, you might miss the sensory experience. But most commutes are around the M25, so leaving the hassle to Robochauffeur sounds like progress. If in doubt, ask how many classic car dealers drive one every day.
Which of course brings us to the big question. Where does this landmark announcement leave classics? Confined to the cinema, along with petrol pumps and road trips? Imagine the Goodwood Festival of Speed celebrating its 50th anniversary in silence, the whirring Priuses and Teslas drowned out by the thunder of hooves on earth at the neighbouring horseracing track. Restorers, auctioneers, dealers and brokers (heaven forbid) forced out of business, and the sound of a V12 at full chat just a tale passed down from grandfather to grandson before finally being forgotten. It conjures up the Statue of Liberty washed up on a beach centuries from now in The Planet Of The Apes.
Yet, somehow, I don’t think so. The former chairman of a well-known supercar maker once pointed out to me, after a provocative dig I’d made as commentator at the relevance of his latest 200mph offering, that a century ago we all travelled by horse. Who does now? And yet today the best of the breed are as coveted, and far more valuable, than our ancestors could ever have imagined. Created with fanatical attention to every genetic detail in the quest for perfection, pampered like four-legged rock stars, raced for pride and passion, traded amongst a fortunate few – and of zero practical use. Sound familiar?
It feels like time for a change here too. After nearly a decade I’m leaving you in the hands of brilliant fellow columnists like Gordon Murray who have so much to share. Being part of the Classic Cars family has been a great experience and I can’t count how many readers have spontaneously introduced themselves at events as a result. You’ve followed my quest for family cars – still going strong, and one up recently thanks to this magazine (a Porsche 911S) – and the twists and turns of one of the most colourful businesses to work in. One day I’ll get a proper job, but that’s unlikely before 2040.
It’s always been about the people – meeting hero drivers, legendary designers, playboy first owners, humble but uniquely talented restorers, ‘total recall’ historians and, above all, the devoted enthusiasts who keep this world alive. On that note, I’m off for a drive.
Columnist Simon bids us farewell – with quite the choice of machinery in which to drive off into the sunset